What do your Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and you have in common?
For starters, unless you are an entrepreneur, both of you are likely to be employed individuals, hired by a company to perform certain functions at your place of work.
The other similarity that you both share is the high probability that start-ups, technology and globalisation could threaten your livelihood sometime in the near future, whether or not you see it coming.
The Role Of A CFO
Let’s start off with the role of a CFO. Traditionally, the role of a CFO is to be boring ensure that the finance of a company is in good order. Being trained accountants, they are relied upon to ensure cash flow is well managed, and that the cost that a company incur is kept in check.
They also do all the serious (and boring) stuff that nobody wants to do such as talking to the auditors, keeping track of the balance sheet, doing revenue projections, and of course, everyone’s least favourite activity at the end of the year – annual budget.
When it comes to business vision and strategic planning, most people expect the CFO to defer to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO is expected to be the person with the vision on how the company would grow. The CFO is reduced to a supporting role, asked to find financial means to help support the company’s vision.
Many times, however, the CFO is actually in a prime position to chart and lead the growth of the company. CFO have direct access to important information such as the financials of the company, and can spot important business trends based on the numbers that they are seeing.
For example, a CFO of a retail business could find that average purchase per customer is falling despite the company expanding into more outlets. Or that the cost of doing business (i.e. rental, labour) is going up while revenue remains flat. These are all tell-tale signs that a business is slowly becoming irrelevant, and that management needs to act immediately to change things around.
Are CFOs Thinking About The Future?
A survey recently conducted in Singapore by American Express found that 9 in 10 (87%) CFOs of SMEs say that immediate priorities are more important than mapping out a long-term game plan. The same survey also found that approximately 2 in 3 (65%) CFOs from SME identified e-commerce as the key to sustaining a competitive edge, with agility and ability to adapt quickly coming in second at 52%.
This tells us is that while CFOs are aware of what they need to do for their companies to continue staying relevant, they are unable to act on these plans because of the immediate challenges that they face.
At the same time, standing still while the world is evolving around you is one of the most dangerous mistakes that any company can make. Over the past decade, we have seen our fair share of companies becoming irrelevant because of this.
Google made Yellow Pages irrelevant. Nokia lost to Apple and Samsung. Amazon made Borders redundant. Travel agencies around the word found themselves disrupted by the Agoda and Expedia.
What Does My CFO Problems Have To Do With Me?
The question concerns us on two levels.
Firstly, we have to ask ourselves just how competitive our current employers are, and where they would be in 10 years’ time. Gone are the days where Singaporeans can expect to work at one single company for our entire career and enjoy steady increment and career progression. Given the competitive nature of today’s world, companies may not even last that long these days.
And if we are fortunate to work for a company that is able to last for the next few decades, there are also no guarantees that our job would remain safe. In recent years, we have seen major banks in Singapore undergoing retrenchment exercise. These include Barclays, Standard Chartered and most recently, ANZ. Outside of the banking sector, companies such as RWS have also been forced to trim their staff strength.
On the individual level, there also sectors that are under threat due to disruptive technologies. Financial advisors are now competing with robo advisors to manage clients’ wealth. Financial traders are competing with algorithmic trading (also known as black-box trading) to make trades. Remisiers are no longer needed over the phone to buy and sell stocks with most investors using the internet instead.
Disrupting Yourself (And Your Company)
We like to talk about companies that stood still while the world went past them. We talk about how these companies were too comfortable with where they were and refused to evolve their businesses in a meaningful way to stay competitive and relevant. Their inability and unwillingness to adapt ultimately cause them to become obsolete.
It’s easy to look at the mistakes that these companies made and forget that the same logic applies to us, as individual employees.
We spend years in the same company doing the same things without learning new skills. We become comfortable in where we are while failing to see just how the world is changing around us. We are armed with skills that were acquired 10 years ago, without realising that we have not upgraded ourselves since. We are in fact, simply a human reflection of the very same companies that we see around us that are no longer relevant.
Our career progression should no longer be tagged to the company that we are working with. Rather, we should see ourselves as individual employees looking to chart our own growth. We can take proactive steps by expanding our own skillsets and looking outside of our own industry. If we work in a big enough organisation, we can also look to become more relevant by looking beyond our own job scope at the company.
The idea here is to constantly learn and improve yourself.
Companies today, especially SMEs, are in the danger of being disrupted by startups. They need their management (including their CFO) to stay active in keeping ahead of the competition.
As individuals, neither are we spared. Technology and globalisation are the threats that we face similar to how start-ups threaten established companies.
If even drivers may one day be replaced by self-driving vehicles, we should expect that no job is indefinitely immune from changes in the future. And similar to big companies that failed, we should not wait until it’s too late to make the necessary changes.
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